Redistricting Standoff?

September 26, 1991

The stage has been set in the State House for a prolonged standoff between House and Senate leaders over re-drawing Maryland's congressional boundary lines. The two chambers yesterday put forward conflicting proposals, neither of which stands much chance of final passage. Finding a way out of this gridlock will take considerable flexibility on both sides.

Of the two bills approved yesterday, the House proposal is preferable. It is seriously flawed, though, in that it, too, mutilates Baltimore County, sending slivers of the county's populace to districts controlled by the Eastern Shore, Western Maryland and Anne Arundel County. Yet these defects pale in comparison with the unacceptable provisions of the Senate bill, which tears Baltimore County communities asunder, stretches the Western Maryland district all the way to the Susquehanna River and illogically links Harford County to the Eastern Shore and Howard County to the Washington region.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell is adamantly sticking by his House plan. Not surprisingly, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller is doing likewise with his plan. But there are strong indications that neither leader has found overwhelming support for his proposal.

A compromise must be found. Such a vehicle may already exist. It is embodied in Senate Bill 14, which incorporates one of the first redistricting proposals put on the table by state planners. Under this approach, the Baltimore region would not be eviscerated. Instead, a new Second Congressional District would encompass Cecil, Harford and much of Baltimore County. The Second would be a compact district with compatible communities. This plan would keep the rest of the Eastern Shore intact, joined to the western shore counties of Anne Arundel and Calvert via the bay bridge. The Western Maryland district would be smaller and far more rural in orientation.

As we stated editorially last Sunday, such an approach is eminently more acceptable than the other two options now on the table. It preserves the integrity of metropolitan Baltimore's congressional districts. It keeps the Eastern Shore in a bay-oriented district with its western-shore Chesapeake neighbors -- much as it is now. It keeps the Western Maryland district in Western Maryland, not sprawled three-quarters across the state.

Messrs. Miller and Mitchell now are engaged in a clash of wills. Neither man wants to back down. Yet both men ought to relent. They should discard the current Senate and House proposals and instead seek common ground along the lines of SB 14. It would be a victory for Mr. Miller and for Mr. Mitchell. Most important of all, such a sensible plan would be a clear-cut victory for Maryland citizens who deserve fair and equitable representation within their new congressional districts.

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